This paper discusses the Norman conquest of Ireland, which began in 1170 and the impact this had on Irish life, including religion, society and politics.
It concludes that the immediate effect of the invasion and conquest was the re-organization of Ireland’s administration, which became more centralized and subject to Norman sovereignty. A parallel development took place in the Irish Church, which was re-organized and placed more emphatically under the jurisdiction of the Pope. Within Irish society, a process began that resulted in segments of society becoming culturally more English, a process that over time had important consequences for literature and the arts. Although this paper focuses on the immediate consequences of conquest, it briefly describes the long termEffect, which would subject Ireland to colonial rule for almost a thousand years, resulting in exploitation and oppression of a whole people.
Primary material consulted are The Song of Dermot and the Earl and the chronicle of Gerald of Wales. The Song is a poem in Old French from a mss (the Carew mss) housed in Lambeth Palace, London. It was written in the late twelfth century. The author is unknown but whoever penned the work “did not rely solely on written materials” but included some eyewitness testimony (Orpen and Regan xix).
A certain Maurice Regan, who had served as King Dermot’s interpreter, is said to have “showed” the author “his history”. The poem covers the arrival in Ireland of Strongbow, Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1130-1176) in 1170 followed by Henry II of England (1133-1189) in 1171. While the author is unknown, the poem is written from the perspective of King Dermot (Mac Murchadha or Dermot MacMurrough, 1110-1171). The poem begins with high praise for Dermot, describing him as loving the generous, hating the mean and as a “worthy king” (3).
Gerald of Wales (1146-1223) gives an account of the conquest in his chronicle, available at the Fordham University Medieval Sourcebook. Gerald was related to many of the Normans who invaded Ireland and describes them as heroes. His description of Dermot is unflattering:Now Dermot was a man tall of stature and stout of frame; a soldier whose heart was in the fray, and held valiant among his own nation. From often shouting his battle-cry his voice had become hoarse. A man who liked better to be feared by all than loved by any. One who would oppress his greater vassals, while he raised to high station men of lowly birth. A tyrant to his own subjects, he was hated by strangers; his hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him Barnard 26).
Strongbow also left an account, edited by Barnard. In addition, the papal bull, Laudabiliter issued by Pope Adrian in 1155 and Pope Alexander’s confirming edict of 1171 provide primary material, available at Library Ireland.Who were the Normans?The Normans who invaded the then free and sovereign territory of Ireland were the rulers and elite of the Angevin Empire, which combined the territories of the Duke of Normandy with those of the English kings following the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror (1027-1087 ) in 1066. Henry II was the first ruler of the House of Plantagenet, and was territorially ambitious. He may have had Ireland in sight for some time before 1155, when in return for a pledge of allegiance Pope Adrian IV ceded Ireland to him with his bull. At this period, the Pope believed that he had the authority to cede any territory considered pagan to a Christian ruler who could invade and conquer provided that they also evangelized the people and brought them under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. It was on the same basis that, for example, the Bull Inter Caetera (1492) would divide the new world up between Spain and Portugal. Behind both Bulls lies the conviction that the Pope is the earthly representative of Jesus Christ, who is King of Kings and therefore sovereign of the whole world.
However, why was Ireland considered pagan when Saint Patrick has taken Christianity there in the and Irish missionaries had kept the faith against Viking raids as well as sending missionaries into continental Europe, a story told by historian Thomas Cahill (1995).The answer lies in the way in which Christianity developed in Ireland, where it evolved into what is referred to as the Celtic Church or Celtic Christianity. Also, areas of Ireland remained pagan or Christianity there had assimilated local tradition. One of the problems of describing Celtic Christianity is that because the tradition died out, writers tend to read into it their own ideas so that it can champion their agenda on such issues as gender equality and a nature reverencing spirituality so that Celtic Christianity becomes “an artificial construction created out of wishful thinking, romantic nostalgia and the projection of all kinds of dreams about what should and might be” (Bradley vii).
What can be said is that Easter was celebrated at a different time, that monks wore the tonsure differently, that Abbots appear to have exercised more authority than bishops and that the latter did not have a fixed seat. Writers add to this conjecture that women and men enjoyed greater equality (perhaps women were priests) and that monastic communities may have included some married men and women as well as celibate monks. A reverence for nature as a vehicle of divine revelation is also associated with Celtic Christianity which expressed itself in “poetry and music” in “spirituality” and mysticism (Bradley 75). Suffice it to say that the Pope wanted bishops to exercise authority and for irregularities in belief and worship to cease. Even before the Norman conquest, there was a reforming movement in Ireland, led by the bishops who may have thought it would be in their own interests to conform with Rome (Duffy 72). Remaining outside the Roman Empire, Ireland had not inherited the administrative divisions that elsewhere were accommodated to the structures of the Church, with bishops as centralized authority figures. According to a contemporary writer, Ireland in the twelfth century was regarded as a “magical and mysterious country” one that was “just as exotic as the far-off lands of the East” (Bradley 74).
To Henry and the Pope, it was a land that required taming. The Bull refers to “rebellious, godless and pagan rulers”.Ireland in the Twelfth Century: What led to the Norman Invasion.Ireland was a loose confederation of local clan chiefs and kings until Brian Boru (940-1014) became High King, unifying the clans and chiefs under his rule.
When he died, however, no successor was able to occupy the throne and only did so against the threat of rebellion. Subsequently, various rivals bid for the High Kingship. Dermot was king of Leinster, succeeding his older brother. The high King opposed Dermot’s succession, fearing that he might try to claim the throne. Dermot was temporarily removed. However, after regaining his throne he was again ousted by the next High King, who invaded Leinster in 1166.
Fleeing to Wales, Dermot later met Henry II in France and asked him for help in regaining his throne and obtained “letters authorizing” Henry’s “vassals” to aid him (Duffy 55). He then met with Strongbow, probably before 1167 who pledged his support. Almost certainly, Dermot had resolved both to regain Leinster and to claim the high kingship, since he offered Leinster Strongbow (Duffy 66) even though technically he did not have the authority, since kingship in Ireland “was exclusive to the male descendants of previous kings”. Gerald says that Strongbow did have a claim based on his marriage to Dermot’s daughter (Duffy 66).Dermot invaded Ireland, recovered Leinster but was then defeated, so called Strongbow to keep his pledge. Dermit had some Norman help before 1170 when Strongbow arrived but this marks the real beginning of the Norman Conquest that soon brought the territory around Dublin under control. In 1171, Henry II decided to consolidate the conquest, becoming the first English king to visit Ireland (Duffy 60).
He took with him some 500 knights and 4000 archers (Duffy 71) Henry’s main lieutenant in Ireland was Hugh de Lacy (d. 1186) whose ancestor had landed in England with William I. According to Duffy, Henry did not entirely approve of Strongbow’s invasion which he saw as “freelance” and wanted to assert royal control (71). Over the next century, although Gallic or Irish enclaves remained, most of the island fell to Norman rule. According to Duffy, the bishops welcomed the conquest and submitted “without hesitation” to Henry (72). Many Kings also willingly submitted, seeing in him a protector against the independent invasions of English barons (101). Known as Hiberno-Normans, these barons owed loyalty to no one Conquest was steady although interrupted in “1173, when both Strongbow” and De Lacy “were summoned by Henry for military service in Normandy” and William FitzAudelin was placed in charge (Roche 197. Dermot died from disease, towards the end of 1171.
The former kingdoms became counties, which were fewer in number. From the late twelfth century until the Tudor period, the Earls of Kildare (the FitzGeralds) acted as Deputy Lords of Ireland.What was the short-term impact?Over the short term, large parts of Ireland became subject to English rule. Henry, who took the title “Lord of Ireland” as bestowed in the bull then appointed his son, John (known as John of England, or John Lackland, 1166- 1216) as Lord in 1185 (Duffy 94). Henry III succeeded John in 1216. The feudal system was introduced.
Strongbow headed the “pyramid of lordship” and under him land was parceled out in “manageable estates” (Duffy 82). Bishops became administrators of Diocese but Henry began a tradition of appointing only non-Irish Archbishops of Dublin and by the “late thirteenth century” bishops “were sometimes absentees” who rarely visited Dublin (Duffy 105). Bishops, too, became feudal lords with the Archbishop acting as “an instrument of English government in Ireland” (Duffy 105). Henry convened a synod at Cashel where the bishops embraced reforms (Roche 192).
The system of parishes with established borders and permanent clergy, then only embryonic in Ireland, replaced the loose organization and was welcomed by the clergy (Duffy 73). Although most Irish kings were confirmed in their posts, real power now lay with the English. Some dioceses were amalgamated, which alienated those who lost status. The “monastic center of Glendalough” famous for its learning “all but passed out of the pages of history” when it ceased to be the seat of a bishop (Duffy 106). Normans were encouraged to settle (Duffy 83). Boroughs were established. Irish who remained “beyond the pale” (outside of Norman territory) were forbidden from marrying Normans, from speaking English while Normans were forbidden from wearing Irish clothes and from learning Gallic. With land newly sub-divided and a rotation of crops established, “the appearance of the very countryside was different, filled with such new manors and farms, and with new towns, castles, mills, churches and religious houses … peopled with a fairly high density of immigrant communities speaking a different language” from the native population (Duffy 112).
Cahill points out that in this respect the Hibernian-Normans were different and became “more Irish than the Irish” (213) intermarrying and adopting Irish customs. Dublin was given its first charter (Roche 190). On the one hand, creating boroughs gave a degree of local autonomy. On the other hand, both secular and religious administration was centralized. Celtic Christianity declined and the “Irish church as it had existed for 700 years … was to be no more, and it was to be no more by its own volition” (Duffy 74). However, Bradley points out that as a result of the Norman Conquest, something of a revival of interest in this tradition occurred.
He says that this revival corresponded with renewed interest in the Arthurian legend as Normans attempted to establish their own cultural claim to English origins and identity (Bradley viii). Before the invasion, Ireland was divided into 150 kingdoms. Now, there was a single lordship (Rigby 145). A parliament was convened in 1297. This continued until abolished by the Act of Union in 1800.
Long term effectDuffy says that the Norman invasion left a permanent mark on Ireland, representing an episode of “conquest, colonization and cultural change” that “contributed to the making of Europe as we know it” (85). Ireland would not be entirely free again. Since the end of colonial rule in 1922, the island of Ireland has been divided between the South and the North, which remains part of the United Kingdom. He says that Henry’s invasion is probably the single most important “turning point in Irish history” yet comments that at the time this was not as catastrophic as later writers suggest. If we depend only on contemporary Irish accounts, we might be unaware that a radical transformation took place (Duffy 85). This is due to the way in which the invasion occurred, with Irish collusion not least of all that of Dermot but also with the support of the bishops and of many Irish rulers. Dermot would subsequently be portrayed as a traitor to Ireland, although according to Duffy there had been “nothing ‘unpatriotic’ about the how Irish kings had flocked to Henry or about Dermot “inviting English assistance” although tradition would think otherwise. By tradition, the kings chose a high king and there was no reason why that King had to be Irish.
The kings may well have regarded submission to Henry as temporary (Duffy 71). Duffy, though, cites the seventeenth-century Annals of the Four Masters that described Dermot as having “done extensive damage to the Irish” and as dying from “an insufferable and unknown disease through the miracles of God” (75). US President John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) wrote a drama based on the story of Dermot, warning his citizens to learn a lesson about “devotion to their country” by “pointing the finger of scorn at the example six hundred years since exhibited, of a country sold to a foreign invader by the joint agency of violated marriage vows, unprincipled ambition and religious imposture” (xii-xiv). Reference to the violation of marriage vows is to the alleged abduction by Dermot of the wife of one of his rivals. The place played by the Papal Bull also complicates the issue of legality, in terms of the law of the day. Roche points out that not much mention was made at the time of the Bull but suggests that this helps to explain why the bishops cooperated with Henry. He also notes that Henry was by then “out of favor” with the Pope (due to the murder of Thomas Becket) so may not have alluded in public but only in private to the Bull (192). The bull was later reaffirmed.
One interesting result of the conquest was that Ireland became more staunchly loyal to the Pope than the majority remained in England, whose Henry VIII led the English Church into Protestantism. By 1220, Norman power in Ireland had seriously declined and only Dublin remained under English rule. Elsewhere, Irish rulers regained power. Wars elsewhere, lack of sufficient settlers and others factors, including constant revolts made it difficult to sustain English power. In 1315, Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) invaded Ireland, extending his fight with the English to the island. He was actually crowned high king in 1329, which supports the idea that for the Irish to ally themselves with non-Irish even to appoint a non-Irish king was not, at least then, thought unpatriotic.It was Henry VIII (1491-1547) who decided to re-assert English rule in Ireland. He closed monasteries and began a series of repressive measures against Catholics.
Ireland under the Normans had yielded good crops and proved profitable. Even the small enclave that remained under English rule was profitable, so when Henry turned his attention toward Ireland he was at least in part motivated by profit. Under Henry VIII and subsequent English rulers, who from 1541 took the title king of Ireland, the tactics employed by Henry II and John were replicated. Protestants were encouraged to settle. Many did so in the North, which would choose to remain part of the United Kingdom when independence or home rule was finally granted Ireland. Power was taken out of Irish hands. Catholics were subjected to many restrictions, increasingly losing land and becoming impoverished. Over time, Ireland became so poor that Cahill describes it as “a third world country at the edge of Europe” (213).
Many aspects of traditional Irish culture were destroyed. In some respects, the way in which the colonial power went about destroying local culture resembles the type of cultural genocide that took place across the globe during the years of European imperialism. So many Irish migrated elsewhere that the population was “reduced by a third.” 1171 saw the start of what the Book of Leinster described as the “wretched rule” of the English, who “came to Ireland and “destroyed it” (Duffy 75).
The Book of Leinster dates from the late twelfth century. Yet the Irish remained independent of spirit and developed what might be called a love-hate relationship with the British. Neither Gallic culture nor the Gallic language ever quite disappeared.
Also, just as the Hibernian-Normans became more Irish than the Irish, some Irish became more English than the English, at least in terms of mastering the language. Ireland has produced many literary giants of the English language, a long-term effect of the Norman Conquest, although the Normans at the time spoke a form of French. As part of the Angevin Empire, then of the British Empire, the Irish were linked with the wider world, from which for some years before the invasion of 1170-1171 they had been isolated. Through migration and service overseas with the British Empire, Irishmen traveled the world.
What can be said is that the Norman conquest “irrevocably changed” the “course of Irish history” as well as transforming the “face of Ireland” (Duffy 81).